OPPAGA text logo with graphic of FL historic capitol
OPPAGA text logo with graphic of FL historic capitol

Education System

Early Learning Programs

What is the purpose of the programs?

The general purpose of Early Learning programs is to increase children's chances of achieving future educational success and becoming productive members of society.

What are the primary Early Learning programs?

The two largest Early Learning programs in Florida are School Readiness and Voluntary Prekindergarten.
  • School Readiness. Each local School Readiness Program is required to provide the elements necessary to prepare at-risk children for school, including health screening and referral, and an appropriate educational program. These programs are designed to be developmentally appropriate, be research-based, involve parents as their children's first teachers, serve as preventive measures for children at risk of future school failure, enhance the educational readiness of eligible children, and support family education. Chapter 1002, Part VI, Florida Statutes, provides requirements for implementing the School Readiness Program.
  • Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK). The program provides a free, voluntary prekindergarten education for every Florida child four years of age, as required by Article IX, Section 1, Constitution of the State of Florida. The state's VPK Program is intended to increase children's chances of achieving future educational success and must be developmentally appropriate.  Chapter 1002, Part V, Florida Statutes, provides requirements for implementing and assessing the VPK Program.

Are there prekindergarten services for children with disabilities?

Early Steps, a Florida Department of Health program, is Florida's early intervention system that offers services to children from birth to three years who have or are at-risk for developmental delays. Florida's Office of Early Learning offers the VPK Specialized Instructional Services Education Program, which is designed for four-year-olds with special needs who have current individualized education plans from local school districts. The State Board of Education's rule (Rule 6A-6.03026, Florida Administrative Code), outlines the criteria for prekindergarten participation, as they relate to children with disabilities.

What is the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) program?

The Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) program is a parental involvement, school readiness home visitation program to help eligible parents who participate in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) prepare their three-, four- and five-year old children for success in school and life. Parents receive a set of carefully developed courses, books, and materials to strengthen a child's cognitive and early literacy skills, as well as social, emotional and physical development.

How are Early Learning programs structured at the state level?

The Office of Early Learning is responsible for the administration of the School Readiness and VPK programs (ss. 1002.82 and 1002.75, Florida Statutes). The office is under the Department of Education's Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice but has an executive director that reports directly to the Commissioner of Education. The office is also responsible for developing and adopting performance standards for students in the VPK Program and for VPK Program accountability (ss. 1002.67 and 1002.73, Florida Statutes). The Department of Children and Families is responsible for the licensing and credentialing of early learning providers.

How is the local system organized?

There are 30 early learning coalitions and the Redlands Christian Migrant Association, all of which submit plans to the Office of Early Learning detailing how they intend to implement School Readiness and VPK programs for eligible children in their areas. Coalitions serve one or more counties and plan, coordinate, and implement readiness programs following the standards and guidelines established in statute (ss. 1002.83, 1002.84, and 1002.85, Florida Statutes). Local coalitions also oversee providers that offer School Readiness and VPK services.

How many children are served in Early Learning programs?

  • During Fiscal Year 2018-19, local School Readiness programs provided preschool education and child care services to 208,746 children statewide.  Of that number, 70%, or 146,986, were below the age of six, while 30%, or 61,617, were school age (age six or older). An additional 143 (less than 1%) of children in local School Readiness programs were categorized as special needs.
  • During Fiscal Year 2018-19, the VPK Program served 174,319 of the state's eligible four-year-olds. In the 2018-19 school year, approximately 75% of four-year-olds in Florida attended VPK.

How are the School Readiness programs evaluated?

A Voluntary School Readiness Child Assessment system provides teachers, child care providers, and parents a tool to guide instruction, document learning, and development over time, and will complement developmentally-appropriate curriculum.

The Early Learning Performance Funding Project evaluates whether specific training and teaching approaches improve how well children do in School Readiness. The project gives eligible child care providers selected to be part of a pilot group and their instructors an opportunity to earn additional compensation for improving school readiness program outcomes. To be eligible, providers must have at least 20% of their enrollment made up of children in a School Readiness Program.

How is VPK eligibility determined?

Any child who attains the age of four years on or before September 1 of the school year is eligible for the program, during either that school year or the following school year. The child remains eligible until either admitted to kindergarten or if the child reaches age six before February 1 of the school year.

How is kindergarten readiness evaluated?

Section 1002.69(1), Florida Statutes, directs the Department of Education to adopt a kindergarten readiness screening based on Florida's VPK program standards. These standards describe what children should know and be able to do at the end of VPK in the areas of physical development, approaches to learning, social and emotional development, language and literacy, mathematical thinking, scientific inquiry, social studies, and creative expression through the arts. In 2017, the Department of Education, which administers the Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener (FLKRS), procured the Star Early Literacy assessment to be used as the FLKRS assessment beginning in the 2017-18 school year.

How are VPK providers rated?

The Department of Education calculates a kindergarten readiness rate for each VPK provider based on children's screening results and expressed as the percentage of children who are ready for kindergarten. Children who attended less than 70% of a VPK Program are not included in a provider's readiness rates, and readiness rates are not calculated for providers with fewer than four children assessed.

Are there consequences for VPK providers that do not meet state readiness rates?

Yes. Providers that do not meet the minimum readiness rate set by the department are placed on probation and required to take certain corrective actions.

How are these activities funded?

The Voluntary Prekindergarten Program is funded by state general revenue, and the School Readiness Program receives a combination of state and federal dollars. Federal funding is from two major sources-child care block grants and welfare transition funds. 
Fiscal Year: 2020-21
Fund Dollars Positions
EARLY LEARNING
PROGRAM: EARLY LEARNING SERVICES
1,439,147,569
98.00
TOTAL
1,439,147,569
98.00

Updates

VPK Teacher Salary Increase.  The 2020 Legislature enacted Chapter 2020-94Laws of Florida, which, among other things, creates the teacher salary increase allocation in the Florida Education Finance Program.  Funds appropriated for this allocation are to be used to raise minimum teacher salaries for full-time classroom teachers and certified prekindergarten teachers to $47,500 or to the maximum amount achievable based on the allocation.

Enhanced Field System Modernization (EFS Mod).  The Office of Early Learning is involved in a multi-year project to enhance its EFS Mod, which includes three main components—portals for coalitions, providers, and families.  The office has updated the VPK attendance and reimbursement processes, and it is continuing to update processes relating to child assessment and developmental screening results and program assessment scores.

    Where can I find related OPPAGA reports?

    A complete list of related OPPAGA reports is available on our website.

    Where can I get more information?

    Other Reports
    A complete list of Auditor General reports is available on its website.
    Office of Early Learning 2018-19 Annual Report

    Websites of Interest
    Children's Defense Fund
    Children's Forum
    Department of Children and Families, Child Care Regulation

    Performance Information


    Performance measures and standards for the department may be found in its Long Range Program Plan.

    What are the applicable statutes?

    Chapter 1002 Parts V and VI, Florida Statutes.

    Whom do I contact for help?

    Office of Early Learning (VPK and School Readiness), 1-866-357-3239

    Website